When most people think of ways to promote their business, the chances are that they probably think of traditional advertising and marketing methods. Don’t get me wrong – these methods have their place but the problem is they’re generally expensive and everyone else uses them. Unless you have a big advertising and marketing budget, you probably have competitors who can outspend you and get the lion’s share of the business.
How can you promote without a big budget: The answer is by learning ingenious, low cost, but very effective methods to promote your product or service.
Although it may not be a popular form of marketing to secure clients/customers in the short term, public relations can help you solicit additional clients in the long term. Getting your name and your company name in print, public relations lets you position yourself as an expert in your field and lets you flush out prospects whom you could not normally reach by other marketing means. For some really good ideas, look up Freelance Writing here.
This article is based on a publication I have written – titled: Getting PR for your Business – promotion without a big budget.
How to use PR effectively
Public relations means getting free advertising, usually in the print media whether in a paper or digital form. You need to write a newsworthy press release that provides valuable information to the publication’s editor and to the publication’s audience – otherwise your press release will end up in the proverbial editorial bin
Many freelancers who use PR to market their businesses develop press releases that offer a free report for the publication’s audience to request. Your free report should be related to the services you provide. For instance, if you were an ad copywriter, you might create a free report about “10 Ways to Improve Your Ad Headlines”. If you were a direct mail writer, your free report might be “15 Ways to Increase the Response of Your Direct Mailing”.
You’ll want to get your press release published in only those print media markets that attract your type of clients, otherwise you’ll be soliciting people who’ll only want your free report and have no intentions to buy your services.
No amount of press coverage can make you what you aren’t. The stodgy can’t become innovative or the authoritarian enlightened merely by journalistic fiat. That’s the number one PR rule to remember. A good agency can help you polish your story; it can package it perfectly and may have great connections in the press. But you’re wasting your time and retainer unless your company has something good to say. Effective PR is the truth that is effectively communicated to an organisation’s many publics – not just an illusion foisted on the press.
To get publicity, your news must be newsworthy. To do this, you’ll have to meet one of media’s three goals – (1) inform, (2) educate or (3) entertain. Your story must also be timely. Before pursuing a story, editors, reporters and producers ask themselves, why would our readers, viewers or listeners be interested in this now?
PR can provide the competitive edge for your business
Six years ago, Peter Walker, when president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations wrote in the NatWest Corporate Quarterly magazine (NatWest Corporate Quarterly, October 1998, Page 4) about PR providing a competitive edge. He argued that no one questions the potential value of PR, but still for too many managers, doubts remain.
Perhaps the contrast between the high profile public relations successes or the equally spectacular failures is just too far removed from the everyday experiences of most managers. But PR is a management function and a function of management. Like any other specialist management discipline it only works to the best advantage in partnership with the whole management of the business.
Checklist 1: Successful personal and corporate management of PR
In the 1980’s, Harvard Business School set out its checklist for the successful personal and corporate management of PR:
- Is effective public relations (management communication) given a high priority?
- Are all issues clearly thought through before any communication is attempted?
- Are communications clear and concise?
- Do communications answer all the important questions at hand?
- Are communications properly tailored to address all possible audiences?
- Does each communication have the proper tone, as well as correct content?
- Does the information being communicated have style, substance, conviction, honesty and humour?
Setting clear business and operational objectives have always been at the heart of good management. Identifying and prioritising the audiences, establishing the messages, agreeing on the method of implementation and setting a timetable can be a salutary experience in a world where the touch of a keyboard publishes news three continents away, instantly.
Checklist 2: How to work out your “PR Appeal”
Ask yourself the following questions to help find out how your product, service, event, or activity can be newsworthy. You should answer yes to number 1 and to at least one other question:
- Is it timely? Consider how directly the impact will be felt and whether it affects individuals or groups;
- Is it innovative? This means no product or service is similar;
- Is it different or distinctive? If there are similar products or services, what sets your offering apart from your competitors?
- Will it instigate a change that will affect your customers or many people in your community?
- Could it impact the public’s health and safety?
- Could it impact an area’s economy? The relocation or expansion of a small business could be big news in some communities;
- Is it something that has never been done before, or has never been done before in your community?
- If it has been done before, how is it being done differently this time?
- Does it tie in with a current item in the news?
- Does it tie in with a trend?
- Does it tie in with a particular season?
- Is it information that previously did not exist? (Such as results of a survey or study);
- Does it have emotional appeal? Is it a moving, amusing or an inspiring story?
- Is it information that can help people make an important decision or avoid a serious mistake? (such as how to spot fraud, avoid a tax or VAT investigation, select the right IT-solution for your business, hire and retain the best people etc.);
- Is there a public recognition issue involved in the story? Is the problem already recognised as an issue or is it relatively unknown?
Checklist 3: What “public” are you appealing to?
Penny Haywood in DIY PR (www.goodreads.com/book/show/3990467-diy-pr) says that a business has several different ‘publics – the several groups of people whose good opinion is vital to the smooth operation of the business. Whilst some ‘publics’ are obvious, some are not so obvious to the extent that they are typically neglected by small businesses – sadly, with adverse consequences as a result.
Penny Haywood suggests that the first step in creating your own PR Plan is to choose from the following list, the ‘publics’ that impact on your business. Typical ‘publics’ that are important to small businesses include:
(In a rough suggested order of importance, although this will vary according to each individual business)
- Customers: without their goodwill, a business will have no future;
- Potential customers: without them, a business won’t have a future;
- Staff: without people, the business cannot function – even if it’s only you at the moment (this might come first on many PR lists);
- Suppliers and contractors: without their willingness to supply you, your business cannot make or do anything;
- Advisers: without them to keep you legal and tax efficient, you could go out of business;
- Investors, bankers, backers or shareholders: without them, many businesses would fail. Even if it’s only the potential for a small overdraft facility at the bank, or a loan from friends or family to tide you over a rough patch;
- Family or immediate circle: without their support, business life could be very difficult;
- Friends: without their help, few business people could cope;
- Neighbours: without their cooperation, you could be forced out of business;
- Authorities and regulatory bodies: without their goodwill, they could spell the end of your business;
- Local community: without their goodwill, business is a struggle;
- Competitors: help to stimulate demand in your market sector. They can be a surprisingly good source of business;
- Opinion formers: in all business and industrial sectors there are those whose expert opinion is sought, whether it’s for resolving disputes or giving general comment in the media. Their support confers extra status on your business;
- Potential recruits: without them you would be unable to cope with growth and staff replacement;
- The media: can carry your messages to almost all the groups on this list;
- Trade unions: if they are a traditional force in your line of business;
- Local and national government: if they are intending to change the regulatory framework in a way that will impact on your business – such as business rates and taxes, or employment legislation, health and safety or environmental issues.
How do you get good PR?
You can get good PR in a number of ways- Alf Nucifora (look him up here) is one of America’s leading marketing consultants and he suggests these ideas:
- Seek breakfasts or lunches. Maintain ongoing correspondence once you have initially formed the relationship. Be willing to provide expert advice and be available as an industry source at a moment’s notice;
- Be prepared to provide story ideas. The press is always on the lookout for a good story. Don’t ignore the “new-product” features. Remember that the industry trade-press is always seeking new products to feature. If you have a new product, service or application, send it in, but make sure to accompany it with the relevant information, e.g., spec data, photography, client applications, etc.;
- Enter industry award programmes. Remember that award programs within your particular industry sector get you noticed … and they also generate trade-press coverage. Winning awards also indicates talent and leadership, and it’s the one area where small companies can operate on a level playing field with their larger competitors;
- Sponsor low-cost research programmes within your industry. If you have the time and money, sponsoring an industry research programme can be an immediate step toward gaining respect. It provides media credibility and should generate a certain degree of media coverage;
- Hit the speech circuit. Be willing to talk to trade, industry and community groups anywhere, anytime customers and prospects congregate. Be prepared to give at least one speech a month;
- Hire a PR firm. It’s advisable, if you can afford it. Experienced, independent PR counsel will provide the elements of discipline and experience that many internally managed PR programs lack. But if you engage PR advisors, treat them as partners and professionals. Keep them in the loop and follow their advice.
Remember, most PR efforts take time to build… whether it’s seeking awareness or introducing a new product. Public relations is a discipline that will pay off over time, but you have to be willing to stick with it. Continuity is good; sporadic activity is bad.
Your PR activity must follow a specific plan with goals, objectives, strategies, tactical elements, costs, timing, etc. This will enable you to enforce discipline and track results because accountability is equally important in the PR field as it is with any other marketing activity.
The FREE publication I mentioned earlier includes tips on how to write a successful press release which is one of the best ways you can communicate news about your company to the media. Reporters, editors and producers are hungry for news, and they often depend on releases to tip them off to new and unusual products, company trends, tips and hints, and other developments.